Nov 12 2020

WINSTON-SALEM, NC—For the past five years, Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Chris Geis has served pro bono as an adjunct law professor at Wake Forest University’s Veterans Student Legal Clinic. The clinic provides pro bono legal representation to veterans seeking to upgrade their discharges.  

For example, Geis and the team took up the case of “Frankie,” a wounded Army veteran who received a less-than-honorable discharge as the result of a minor misconduct directly related to brain injuries he suffered in combat.

Frankie enlisted in the Army at 17 and spent more than a year in Iraq, earning the Combat Action Badge. He was injured in a rocket attack, leading to him suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the 13 years since leaving service, he has struggled and even been homeless, due to his service-related injuries and the nature of his discharge. A less-than-honorable discharge also can bar veterans from receiving healthcare from the VA.

Wake Forest Law students Charity Barger and Jilliann Tate took Frankie’s case, working under the supervision of Geis and then-Veterans Student Clinic Director Brandon Heffinger. The Wake Forest team spent hours researching and preparing the case for Frankie to receive an honorable discharge. The team worked with Judge Advocate and Army Captain Chris Salemme on the appeal. Captian Salemme used to be the clinic’s fellow and is now on active duty as an Army judge advocate.

Recently, the team received word that an Army Discharge Review Board had reviewed their petition and affirmed it—meaning Frankie now is an honorable discharged veteran.

“Having an honorable discharge is a huge weight off my shoulders. It really feels good to say I was honorably discharged. Now I am really proud of my service,” he said.

Geis’ role included teaching the students the law, how to advocate for their client, and reviewing their briefs and submissions to the board. He is a Commander in the US Navy Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and serves as a judge on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.